I’m Start­ing All Over Again

The Washington Post Sunday - - Outlook - By Stephanie Derry

For the past 21 years, I have been Stephanie Derry, and for the past three years, I have been a Hokie. But to­day, af­ter last week’s hor­ror at Vir­ginia Tech, I feel 6 days old. I burned my hand reach­ing into the toaster oven for my sand­wich; I had forgotten that hot things should not be touched. I in­vented a word last night be­cause I couldn’t com­pre­hend lan­guage at that mo­ment. I wake up from sleep ev­ery few hours and cry when my senses fail to prop­erly in­ter­pret the world around me.

I knew Se­ung Hui Cho. I was one of the many stu­dents and fac­ulty at Vir­ginia Tech who read his writ­ings and no­ticed their mor­bid bent. I’ve been as­sured that the fac­ulty made at­tempts to seek help for him; I don’t doubt it. Vir­ginia Tech is a very large univer­sity, but most of us — es­pe­cially in the smaller de­part­ments like English — feel at home here. We’re en­cour­aged to stop by and dis­cuss work and life with our pro­fes­sors. Per­haps I should have ex­pressed my con­cerns about Cho, but since oth­ers had al­ready tried to help him, I doubt that any­thing I said would have changed what hap­pened.

Of course, I am and will be wary of fiction that in­volves dis­turb­ing vi­o­lence. I be­lieve I’ll vomit if I ever read of some­one us­ing a ham­mer as a weapon; the im­age of Cho hold­ing one that was re­leased from the pack­age he sent to NBC brought me to tears and sick­ness the other night. But I will never al­low my­self to just as­sume that ac­tions in a fic­tional piece will ma­te­ri­al­ize in the real world. Have you ever read Stephen King or seen any of the “Saw” movies? Do we worry about Mary Hig­gins Clark be­cause she writes about so­ciopaths, stalk­ers and se­rial killers? We don’t fin­ish books and think, “I’m go­ing to call the cops on that au­thor be­fore his writ­ings ma­te­ri­al­ize into ac­tions!”

As a Hokie, I am filled with emo­tions: guilt, sad­ness, hor­ror, hope and pride. Af­ter re­peat­edly recit­ing my side of the story to the me­dia, I feel sort of numb now. The story was real but . . .

You see? Lan­guage fails; my mind has hit a wall. One day, I will be able to find the words. I’ll just keep push­ing that wall back un­til I can fi­nally break it.

To­day I am 6 days old. But I am grow­ing and learn­ing with ev­ery mo­ment. One day, I will ma­ture into the per­son I was last Sun­day.

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